At Large

China’s Cyber Militia

China increasingly relies on young civilian computer hackers for its cyber war activitiy against the U.S.

By 10.21.11

Send to Kindle

There's been an interesting new development in China's use of cyber space as an element in its intelligence and security operations. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is reportedly funding a vast complex of part-time cyber-devotees to supplement and compliment the official structure of cyber interception and invasion.

Equally as interesting is the willingness of the Chinese authorities to allow the publication of this fact. The first official recognition of this program occurred in one chosen hi-tech factory in 2002. According to an official PLA publication, there are now thousands of such units around the country. Obviously the proliferation was considered too great to hide.

Effectively acting as a PLA-associated technical reserve, its mostly under-thirty part-timers are drawn largely from civilian companies and university-level institutes operating in electronic fields. A national guard of "cyber soldiers" provides China's central cyber security system with a particularly useful training ground and support structure for the already vastly expanded echelon of professionals committed to both the defensive and offensive aspects of electronic warfare.

Beijing views the cyber world as an immense battleground on which to gain advantage over its perceived enemies and at the same time act as a defensive bulwark against counter-cyber intrusions. Beijing believes firmly in the importance of the mobilization of volunteer talent in order to add substantially to the intellectual firepower of national security and defense activity.

The world of cyber action has a technological base that is equally useful for both military and civilian use. It has been proven true that an inspired and hardworking hacker can maneuver his way through many, perhaps most, electronic defenses. The difference between Western and Chinese amateur hackers is simply that the Chinese individual is involved in an intellectual adventure that can aid his country. The American counterpart has the opportunity and facility to experiment on his own -- for his personal enjoyment and gain. State-organized instruments established in Chinese communities already devoted, for example, to telecommunications, Internet, and electronic industries operate in an environment already acculturated to a group rather than individual goal. The PLA naturally exploits this orientation.

PLA cyber reserve units provide a source for innovative techniques. On a more mundane basis they also act as a large-scale redundancy force for both offensive and defensive cyber attack targeting. Information warfare operations can be a highly manpower intensive activity and the Chinese have utilized a readily available part-time resource to obtain these personnel.

Published Chinese military scientific reports cited in Western media note that the PLA has constructed an auxiliary instrument that carries on the assignments of what has been referred to as "stealing, changing and erasing data" targeted to provide "deception, jamming, disruption" and other objectives appropriate to cyber warfare. While such targeting appears initially aimed at military and related "enemy" operations, they are easily adaptable to strictly civilian cyber communications and development.

The proliferation of cyber attacks, invasions, and general destructive actions has caused considerable consternation in the West. While cyber security is the subject of various publications and conferences, there appears to be little official action when the issue involves China. The Russians, while quite guarded, appear more willing to discuss a broad agreement that would counter destructive cyber attacks. Basically the Chinese have shown little or no interest in the concept of a binding international cyber agreement.

And why should they? This form of international treaty restricting sensitive military and quasi-military targeting rarely is effective unless the parties are on a friendly basis to start. The truth is that Beijing obviously does not see Washington as a true friend. It isn't really clear that it wishes to be so. China feels safer with its own military defense and ability to acquire the classified military technology of the United States. Stealing civilian technology secrets is of collateral commercial benefit and in the collective minds of Beijing not at all of the same character as the gathering of classified defense data.

The openness of society that is enjoyed by the U.S. and the West, in general, is contrary to the traditional tendency of the Han people for concealment. To expect otherwise is quite foolish. Sun Tzu, the famed author of The Art of War, Sun Tzu, wrote: "To secure ourselves from defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself." And this is the strategic view of the PRC leadership in regard to the cyber war with the United States.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.